Tunisia arrests prominent critics of president

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied speaks to the media as he arrives for the first day of a European Union- African Union summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium, February 17, 2022.— Reuters

TUNIS: Tunisian police on Monday detained two prominent opponents of President Kais Saied and the head of a radio station that has broadcast criticism of the president, part of a wave of arrests targeting politicians and other critics of the government.

Police raided the house of Noureddine Bhiri, a senior official in the biggest opposition party Ennahda and a prominent critic of Saied, and took him away, his lawyer Samir Dilou said by phone.

“The police stormed Noureddine Bhiri’s house, assaulted his wife, and arrested him,” Dilou told Reuters.

Authorities also raided the house of Mosaique FM head Noureddine Boutar, whose radio station has frequently broadcast criticism of Saied, and arrested him after searching his home, his lawyer Dalila Ben Mbarek said.

Police also detained political activist and lawyer Lazhar Akremi, lawyers and opposition activists said.

Since Saturday, police have detained numerous figures that have voiced opposition to Saied or sought to mobilise protests against him.

They included a prominent business leader with close ties across the political spectrum, a former finance minister, another former senior Ennahda official, two judges and a former diplomat. Lawyers said they were arrested on suspicion of assaulting state security.

Neither the police, Interior Ministry nor the prime minister’s office have publicly commented on the arrests or responded to requests for comment.

Ennahda Islamist party condemned the “kidnapping of Saied’s opponents”.

“The expansion of the coup authority in harassing opposition figures, journalists, businessmen and trade unionists is evidence of confusion and inability to face crises,” it said in a statement.

Saied suddenly shut down parliament, dismissed the government and moved to rule by decree in July 2021 before rewriting the constitution, moves his critics called a coup that pulled apart the democracy built after a 2011 revolution.

Saied has denied a coup, saying his moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos.

Although some politicians had faced arrest since Saied’s seizure of broad powers, there had not been a major crackdown on dissent.

Bhiri was held for two months last year, accused of helping Islamist militants travel to Syria during the Islamic State crisis last decade, charges he and Ennahda denied.

State television has largely stopped broadcasting interviews with critics of the president. 

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